#TalkingTexts: Macbeth

Good morning!

I’m not pretending I’ll be able to do this every week for #TalkingTexts, however, this week I wanted to share a few of the highlights from last night’s chat, as it was the very first chat. It overran (in fact, as I write this, there are still comments coming in!), and I didn’t see everything, but what I did see was amazing! It is truly inspiring to have so much knowledge and so many thoughtful opinions from so many teachers available on this platform. Thank you to everyone who got involved.

Here were the original questions:

  1. When studying Macbeth, what are the most important contextual factors which we need to be aware of? (Social and historical)
  2. What (or who) has the greatest influence on Macbeth’s actions?
  3. ‘Macbeth is a ‘real’ tragedy because he was once virtuous.’ How far do you agree?
  4. Deception, ambition and kingship are all key themes in Macbeth. Which do you think is the most important and why?
  5. What are the best resources, websites, texts, etc. for us to learn more about Macbeth?

And here are some of the ideas that I learned/found thought provoking/interesting:

(Sorry, I scribbled these down, I can’t reference people specifically as I’m not sure where/who many of these ideas came from!)


  • Do we need to know more about madness and mental illness in Jacobean period? We apply too much modern knowledge of how the brain works to explain Lady Macbeth’s illness at the end of the play. This could have been seen as being ‘possessed’.
  • We need to consider how common regicide actually was in Jacobean times (and their recent history). E.g. The two young princes killed in the tower.
  • Macbeth set in a time where crown often ‘won’, rather than inherited.
  • Many people suggesting more research into Malleus Maleficarum and Daemonologie books, to understand ideas about witches.
  • James I and Banquo relationship – James I explicitly referenced as a descendant in the line of kings shown to Macbeth in Act 4.
  • Links between powerful women and Elizabeth I.


  • Is his indecision a pretense? It takes less than 50 lines for him to be persuaded.
  • Macbeth as Machiavellian; he is more interested in the ends than the means.
  • Is Macbeth aroused by Lady Macbeth as a strong female figure? E.g. in the line ‘bring forth men children only’.
  • Is his blind hubris at the end admirable? He still wants to die with his sword in his hand.
  • Were all of Macbeth’s tyrannical tenancies just waiting to be unlocked, and the witches sense this in him?

Lady Macbeth:

  • Is a large part of her madness due to Macbeth’s rejection and abandonment? Reducing her to weaker female figure, whose strength was drawn almost entirely from a man?
  • Did it actually take more to convince Lady Macbeth to carry out the plot? She summons supernatural, and Macbeth is convinced by words alone.
  • Is she a fourth witch? (Controversial)
  • My favourite comment: is Lady Macbeth representative of the idea that strong women are unnatural, and should be feared?
  • Did Lady Macbeth just know how to prick Macbeth’s natural cowardice?
  • Is the overarching message in the play not about loyalty to the monarch, but rather a warning to women? (Strong females are dangerous, and will end up succumbing to insanity?)
  • Does she ultimately receive greater punishment for her ambition? (Possibly because she is female?)


  • He seems as interested in the prophecies as Macbeth, but the key difference is his loyalty. See quote: ‘never beg nor fear thy favours’.
  • Does Banquo try to call the witches’ bluff and out them as devil worshipers?


  • His hamartia is his trust.
  • Presented as very naive, considering how last Thane of Cawdor also betrayed him.

Further resources to consult/use:


More to come as I review more comments… Hopefully some of these questions/issues can be lifted and used as classroom discussion points.

Teaching Q5 (AQA, GCSE English Language, Paper 1)

Firstly: there will be two options for this question. You could be asked to write a descriptive or a narrative piece. You should bear in mind that both questions could be descriptive, or both narrative, or one of each. This means that you must be prepared to answer either. You have 45 minutes; use five of these to plan.

What does the mark scheme say?

AO5 Content and Organisation
Communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, selecting and adapting tone, style and register for different forms, purposes and audiences. Organise information and ideas, using structural and grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts.

 AO6 Technical Accuracy
Candidates must use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.

What are the main features of narrative and descriptive writing?

Narrative Descriptive
•Recounts an event (tells a story)

•Will contain description

•May include dialogue

•Has the structure of a story

•At least one developed character

•Structure using ‘a day in the life’, ‘a tale of two halves’, or by beginning at the end

•Most likely a third person perspective

•Show don’t tell

•Focus on images, not events

•You must show all five senses

•Focus on details

•Use structural focus shifts: begin with a panoramic view, zoom and shift, ending with panoramic view again.


Advice for both:

  • focus on the small: one minor event in the narrative, and zooming into small features in the description;
  • make sure that you are using a structure that is appropriate for the purpose of the writing;
  • vary your sentence openers: try to use -ing verb and -ly adverbs to open your sentences;
  • when using exciting adjectives and adverbs, check that your noun and verb choices complement these;
  • revise the spelling of a few really impressive items of vocabulary, in case you have the opportunity to use them in the exam;
  • use sensory language as much as possible;
  • and vary your sentence and paragraph lengths.

If you find yourself extremely stuck, use the source for inspiration. You can mirror the structure.

In Praise of Complex Terminology

Disclaimer – nothing in this blog is new or original! Just my own musings… as usual.

Like many other English teachers before me, I read Mark Forsyth’s ‘Elements of Eloquence’ in my training year. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Elements-Eloquence-Perfect-English-Phrase/1848316216) At the beginning of last term, I reread it. As a trainee, I was utterly convinced that teaching English was skills, skills, skills. Nothing but skills. This wasn’t anyone’s fault – I just got it into my head. So, despite being amused by Forsyth’s book the first time around, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of knowing these elaborate and complex terms, and what relevance it was of to my day job. In fact, I rather snootily condemned the teaching of such terms as being indicative of educational peacocking; I’m ashamed to admit that I judged the use of them as a means to avoid the necessity to helping students learn those darn ‘skills’. How wrong I was!

So anyway, up there with joining Twitter, rereading Forsyth’s text turned out to be one of my (unknowingly) finest career choices. If you haven’t read it already, do! It’s full of wonderful and majestic literary terminology; some obscure, some we unknowingly use all of the time. You will quiver in awe as you encounter terms such as ‘epiplexis’. Each chapter unpicks a new device using a humourous tone and giving lots of examples of how, when and why it is used.

Following on from Forsyth’s brilliance, here are my top three reasons why I think complex subject terminology is one of the greatest things you can bring into your English classroom:

One – It’s satisfying. Delectable, in fact. It gives lower ability pupils something tangible to take from that lesson. Most pupils will be able to understand the meaning of a term, and then be able to identify the technique in a piece of writing. If a student doesn’t make enough ‘progress’ in the lesson, at least they can be sure that they have taken something new away from the lesson. Feel good factor.

Two – It forces pupils to consider the precise impact/effect of a writer’s technique. For example, I introduced a class to the four types of rhetorical question (epiplexis, anacoenosis, hypophora and anthypophora) because I wanted to guide them away from generic responses such as ‘the use of rhetorical question makes the reader feel like they are being spoken to directly‘. After learning the four variations (functions), pupils were providing much more detailed and specific comments about the use of rhetorical questions e.g. ‘The speaker’s rhetorical question functions as a call and response with their audience, which can feel empowering due to the feeling of being united with one another.’ Pupils were able to provide much clearer insights because understanding that there are four varieties, with four different purposes, showed them that the same generic response to the writer’s use of a rhetorical question is not really appropriate. Even if students do not remember the names of techniques, learning them helped them to understand that ther are a range of possible functions/effects and will make them more likely to carefully consider specific effects in the future and/or in an exam.

Three – Teaching such techniques improves outcomes in reading and writing. For example, I have found that teaching techniques such as anaphora and epistrophe during the study of poetry has had the most profound impact on students’ writing. Along with AFOREST techniques, I see my students adding in anaphora, epistrophe, isocolon etc. in their planning, which is wonderful. Use of such techniques adds a layer of sophistication, and conscious crafting, to their work. Structure seems to be something students struggle with a little more in their creative writing, and understanding techniques such as anaphora and epistrophe helps them to begin to structure their writing for effect. Glorious to see indeed!

I’ve attached some loosely planned lessons here that I often dip in and out of, as the occasion arises.

Please credit!


The Importance of Connecting Things in English

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a teacher in possession of excellent subject knowledge, is the master of such knowledge because they are always seeking to expand upon it. I believe that, in English, excellent subject knowledge is not gained from reading more literature alone; it’s reading, writing, watching and listening to more, more, more! More of everything, across all disciplines. Strong subject knowledge is one thing. Strong subject knowledge plus the ability to connect your subject to other domains of knowledge, in order look at things differently and detect alterantive elements of significance, well that’s just about the best resource a teacher can have. IMHO.

I’ve never felt ‘smart’. I’ve always felt intimidated by the intellect of others, and these feelings did not disperse during, or after completing my degree. In fact, it probably worsened because I felt I should know and understand more. In reality, I was still scratching my head wondering if the USSR was a thing, an idea or a place. I guess I spent my education gathering lots of information about isolated texts, but was never trained to connect them and their ideas to anything bigger, due to never being presented with the historical or georgraphical knowledge to do so. I had the dots, but nothing, no background or wider knowledge, to join them up. English was a subject that I fell into, and I believe that’s because, fortunately, I’ve never really had a problem with understanding or producing language, which admittedly is a huge thing for which to be thankful. I am pleased to say that the demands of English in schools have increased significantly, and I love the historical content of the new courses; I believe they provide a much richer experience for students, if not ever so slightly too challenging for the time which we are given!
Since becoming a teacher, I have reflected upon the aforementioned insecurities a lot. I have concluded that the main problem with my education was a complete lack of chronological and geographical awareness. I was good at analysing texts in isolation, but really was quite clueless about the texts fit into their generic contexts; their social and historical contexts; how the texts were located in wider social or literary debates or artistic/social movements; why they would have been received and regarded in certain ways; and ultimately, what they really said about the world. But don’t you worry, I could definitely have told you why the writer chose to use a rhetorical question, and perhaps even the effect on an imperative!

In secondary school I remember wondering what came first, the the Tudors or Ancient Egypt. No joke. But when history isn’t a compulsory subject in secondary (it wasn’t when I was at school), and you’re taught great blocks of history at random in primary school, how are you supposed to realise that these periods are vast empires and continents apart? And even in University, I was still pretty vague on how we went from ancient civilizations in Europe, to peeing in the street again in the ‘dark ages’. In addition to this total lack of historical awareness, I also had no geographical sense. I think I can say with certainty, that I have spent more than half of my life believing that America is the biggest country in the world. Safe to say, with my complete lack of awareness of time/space, I am an excellent case in point for why students should not be given total autonomy over their option choices.

When I consider these gaping chasms in my knowledge, I am incredulous that I got so far in the study of literature. I think the only reason I scraped by was with a bit of historical knowledge gained in the English Language A-level. Now, I cannot imagine exploring a text without considering its relationship to context. I find I can only truly enjoy a text, if I know where it came from, why it was produced, the impact that it had on its society, and how it is reflects the period in which it is written, as well as other time periods.

Human history explores the symbiosis between how humanity has shaped the world and how it has shaped humanity. At its core, literature is about humanity trying to find itself in this strange, scary and wonderful world. To engage with the worlds constructed in literature, we must have an appreciation of the influences and forces that have shaped and reshaped the world, and our view of it, throughout time and space.

In order to ensure that my A-level students are prevented from suffering such woeful insecurities as mine, I am careful to provide them with a quick dose of European history, through the lens of social and artistic movements. Only when I planned to teach the Romantics, did I fully realise their significance in relation to Classical Antiquity, Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. At university, it was just Industrial Revolution. To me, the Industrial Revolution was why everything happened, ever. I am ardent in my belief that writers, and literature in general, cannot be understood without a broad knowledge of artistic and social movements over time, which have blended and culminated to set the climate for the text in question. Only with such geographical and historical awareness, can writers and their significance begin to be understood.

Below is a timeline that I use (recently amended a few sections, with thanks to @positivteacha and @prohistoricman), with various bits copied from a number of sources. I’m not pretending its perfect, in fact it is incredibly vague in relation to dates, and misses out an infinite amount more than it contains. It’s also generalisations central. However, I think it is valuable because it is a start. A means to connect things. It shows recurring trends, fashions and ideas across history. It bridges chunks of history, and gives an indication of the mood of each period, which is invaluable in discerning the meanings of texts. The aim isn’t for students to remember dates or specific events (although that would be fab.) It’s to get the students thinking changing cultures, emerging ideas, social movements, and how world views have been shaped and reshaped over time. It’s utterly fascinating to get students thinking about how and why we view events in history as we do due to how we have evolved.

The right hand side column also functions nicely as a wider reading/research list.

I’m happy to share – DM me if you would like a copy @Miss_E_Miller

Loving the Learning Scientists!

Let me start with a heartfelt lament: I WISH I HAD KNOWN ABOUT THE LEARNING SCIENTISTS LAST YEAR 😭


Now, upon receiving my (ex) most dreaded question ‘how do I remember quotes?’ from a student, old me would blushed, said something forceful and firm about effort, and concluded with a hesitant summary along the lines of: “errrm, well, errr, you need to use flash cards and… little but often… and mix it all up a bit, change is as good as a rest, err, yeah that will work…” (plus various other aphorisms.) The truth is, teachers generally haven’t ever experienced much of a struggle in their subject areas, so it’s not really an obstacle that teachers have personal experience of overcoming (exceptions, of course.) I’ve always been aware of this, and feel that cognitive science studies have given me a way to truly understand how to train for exams.

After reading the blog posts from ResarchEd and having my attention directed to Learning Scientists, I know better. Or, at least, the scientific logic behind how to revise effectively. At long last, I can give proper advice that I believe in! And yes, I admit the baser part of my ego was delighting in the idea of stunning my students through the oh-so-casual use of terms such as ‘neural plasticity‘ and ‘dual coading‘, but that turned out to be a minor pleasure in comparison to feeling as though I was genuinely supporting my students to remember more… aaahh. Historically, scientific thinking and I have never proved particularly compatible; however, the Learning Scientists have helped me arrive at a long awaited eureka moment. And I mean long. I feel I can finally begin to make sense of how it is that one can accumulate, store and quickly access vast quantities of information in that slimy, blobby lump of grey matter that’s stored in the old headbox.

How will this help my teaching? That rather hefty volume of texts required at GCSE for a start… Again, Learning Scientists, I lament that I did not find you sooner.

So I started testing it all out on KS3. At my school, KS3 students complete fairly rigorous end of year examinations in each subject. This year, I thought I would put together some slides on the science/process of learning, in order to try and help my students to carry out effective revision. This was my first time referring to scientific evidence in in my attempts to teach how learning ‘works’, so I was rather nervous! However, it seemed to be well received by KS3 students. Phew!

Now, I am NO expert on this and certainly do not pretend to be! I let the Learning Scientists do the hard work for me and shared their videos on spaced practice and retrieval practice with my students. We then reviewed the slides I created below. The slides are directed at KS3 students, not researchers or experts in ‘neural plasticity‘. (See, there I go, ‘dropping it in’ again.) Also, I have cited all of the websites from which I have copied and pasted/gathered information.

Learning Scientist YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjbAmxL6GZXiaoXuNE7cIYg

The students were immediately interested and motivated by the examples shared on the slides. A few of them had older siblings and were already hearing of the horrors of quotation retention at GCSE. They were enthusiastic to start working with flashcards in a more focused manner, and also to begin planning where and when they would be able to fit in 20 minute revision slots, along with when it would be appropriate to revisit certain topics (which pleased me enormously as it provided me with a chance to dazzle them by impressively dropping in another fancy term: interleaving.) We also discussed connecting ideas on the cards; considered how to revisit simpler revision cards and explored how to expand the knowledge upon them as well as connect them with other cards.

I placed particular emphasis upon how the skills in English (e.g. inference, analysis and comparison), along with subject terminology, will essentially remain the same throughout their time at school. As English teachers, I think we have all experienced how the grammar lessons we teach often seem to be forgotten year upon year, which I suppose is what happens when knowledge is taught in isolation and if it is reinforced in English lessons only. I was very pleased when students began to question whether you can really learn anything without practice, as this demonstrated their understanding of the importance of retrieval practice, and how it is their responsibility, as well as their teacher’s, to keep embedding previous knowledge.

Anywhoo, the students began to genuinely understand that cramming for end of year exams would ultimately only do them a disservice, as they would need to draw upon the same base of knowledge for their final school examinations; meaning that they may as well sustain practice via structured revision throughout their time at school. (A much preferable alternative to homework??) I believe this lesson fostered some extremely useful conversations regarding ‘learning how to learn’. (Everyone’s favourite example of polyptoton, no?) I’m confident that students left the lesson with an increased consciousness of the process of learning, and how they can best practice/learn independently.

So far, I focused mainly upon spaced practice and retrieval practice. This PPT is still a work in progress, but I am happy to share it when it is completed.

Up next: elaborate interrogation.

Thank you so much to everyone who shared slides/observations from ResearchEd!

Teaching Question 4 (Paper 2, AQA GCSE English Language) PART ONE

My initial approach to Question 4, Paper 2 was twofold:

  1. I wanted my students to have a secure understanding of the broad differences in attitudes between nineteenth century (C19) and twentieth/twenty-first century (C20-21);
  2. and I knew I needed to engage in some explicit vocabulary instruction, so that pupils would be able to attribute names to the conceptual differences between the time periods, and also have a bank of vocabulary which helps them to adequately describe the writers’ viewpoints/perspectives.

As an introduction to Question 4, I used a classic dictionary race to get students to define the following terms*:

  • Conservative
  • Liberal
  • Descriptive
  • Prosaic

Knowing the definitions of these concepts led nicely into a discussion whereby students were able to express ideas and share examples about what they would expect to find in older/modern texts. I really enjoy these discussions because of the cross-curricular links with history and politics and I’m always amazed by the knowledge and political insight of students when these discussions are facilitated. That being said, the discussion was lead quite heavily, and I prompted the discussion by considering the stylistic differences between Dickens and Priestley. We also considered potential differences relating to: the treatment of women; the illegality of homosexuality; the idea of empire and subsequent issues of race and culture; rigid social hierarchies; and finally it was interesting to discuss the extent to which these issues are still present in society today (and how such attitudes could be detected in texts.)

In order to reign this discussion back in, students completed a table where they noted ideas about what they would expect from C19/C20-21 texts (language and perspectives.) The table below doesn’t really do justice to the classroom discussion, (nor does it properly acknowledge the fluidity of concepts) but it should give an impression of the general conversations that took place.

Despite the boxing of the two time periods, students were warned that these were tentative predictions, and should not be applied to the texts in a blanket fashion – this was just a way to get thinking about potential differences.

Next, I gave the students this list:

We then turned our attention to thinking about writers’ perspectives upon the events that they describe. We explored two texts; a BBC news report on the famine in Sudan, and a journalist’s report on the famine in Ireland in the late 1840’s.

The single most important thing for students to be able to gauge more subtle perspectives seemed to be the ability to discern fact from opinion, and considering what perspectives are presented when opinions are presented as facts.

Students were able to discern that the journalist in the 1840’s used much more descriptive language, yet seemed far less emotionally attached to the events being described. Students were able to bring in some very interesting points about C19 inclinations towards social hierarchy and less compassion towards the poor, as they have witnessed in Dickens. In the 2008 news report, much more direct and factual language was used, including many more cultural references, and these language factors revealed the urgency of the situation and was indicative of how many people wanted to intervene and assist the situation. This meant that although the text seemed less compassionate on the surface, it actually contained much more sympathetic viewpoints. Students were able to make some valid points about direct language being appropriate for wider audiences and the need for newspapers to appear less biased and to continuously cite facts and statistics to prove events. Overall, students were able to use words such as ‘reserved’, ‘forward’, ‘detached’, ‘distant’, and ‘concerned’ to describe the writer’s perspective in relation to the events that they are describing.

*Note: students were warned against applying ‘conservative’ to C19 in a blanket fashion. They were made aware that the concepts in the introduction activity were not binary opposites, nor were they concretely attached to either time period. They simply opened up ideas/concepts to debate. 

Next post: the process of constructing comparative paragraphs for responding to this question.

Supporting Development in English at KS3

What can you do to support your development in English?

Firstly: you must remember that English is an investment subject. This means that it requires continuous investment of time and effort, if you want to improve. You cannot read one book, or do a SPaG test online and suddenly become a genius in the subject. From committing to and practising the activities I list below, you will become stronger in the subject over time. It will be worth it, I promise!

So, what can you do at home?

Read: The best thing you can possibly do to improve in English is to read widely, both fiction and nonfiction. It has been proven many, many times that reading for twenty minutes a day will significantly raise your attainment.

Reading will help you to:

  • expand your vocabulary;
  • develop an appreciation of writer’s craft;
  • extend your knowledge of a range of subjects/topics;
  • understand how writers structure their work at sentence, chapter and whole text level;
  • develop your understanding of a range of contexts (both social/historical and genre related);
  • become better acquainted with the unique styles of a range of writers;
  • support your attainment in all of your other subjects.

(These are just a few of the benefits!)

N.B. As you read, I strongly recommend that you keep a notebook by your side, so that you can write down any words which you do not understand. This way, you can research their meaning later on, write down the definition and then have a better chance of remembering this word in the future. If you aren’t logging down any new vocabulary, the text is not challenging enough for you!

Useful website: Recommend me a book allows you not to go judging books by their covers! It offers the first page of thousands of books, if you’re interested after the first page, press ‘reveal text and author’, then you can go directly to Amazon or your school library to find the book! If you’re not interested, select ‘next book’. And repeat. http://www.recommendmeabook.com

For a full list of recommended reading at KS3, please access this document https://www.dropbox.com/s/oj6q4f7e0ljj4hb/reading-list-2015-ks3.pdf?dl=0 . Thanks to @SaysMiss for compiling this wonderful resource. Each genre is broken down, with the level of challenge noted for each text.

In terms of supporting your technical ability, I recommend the following websites as starting points:

Free Rice is a very useful website for developing your vocabulary. The quizzes adjust to accommodate your ability, growing gradually harder as you become more accomplished. Free Rice also provides grammar quizzes. It is also a social enterprise; the more questions you answer correctly, the more rice they donate to charity! http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/1950

Oxford Dictionaries: Spellings is an invaluable website for practicing tricky and/or irregular spellings. A small notebook and committing to learning around five of the spellings from this list per week could significantly help you in your English attainment. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/spelling/common-misspellings

BBC Bitesize is a fab resource for supporting your knowledge of the texts that we study in class. There are also a range of activities and resources to support your development in English. The SPaG support is fantastic. http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/subjects/z3kw2hv

BBC Learning English is an excellent site for learning how English used by native speakers. It can help you to understand idioms and commonly used grammatical structures. http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/

Thoughtco is the best search engine for academic research. It’s scholarly and reliable. Saves you the effort of sifting through the flotsam produced by a Google search. Have a browse of anything that interests you! Great for research based home work tasks. http://www.thoughtco.com

Teaching Sections A&B (Paper 1, AQA GCSE English Literature)

Each question will ask students to explore how a writer presents a character, setting or theme. Remember, you must explore both the extract and the whole text; if you do not, your answer could be capped at level 2.

Important note: the main body paragraph structure for each of these questions is the same. 

Essay Checklist:

An Introduction: 

  • Briefly explore the issue raised in the question. Do not bring in technical analysis. A broad consideration of the character/setting/theme is all that is required. You can embed quotations to show your knowledge of the play as a whole, but this is not the time for bringing in your knowledge of adverbs and synecdoche!
  • Pose questions/ideas worth exploring in your introduction.

E.g. Starting with the passage, explain how far you think Shakespeare presents Macbeth as being in control.

The extent to which Macbeth is in control of his actions is central to the narrative, which leads to questions relating to the extent to which anyone, at any time or in any place, has true control over their fate. Whilst Macbeth could be said to relinquish control to Lady Macbeth, the idea of fate, epitomised by the Witches, dominates the play. Throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare raises questions about whether our lives are controlled by a divine or supernatural force, as human beings seem only to be ‘poor players’ on somebody else’s ‘stage’. 

Main Body Paragraphs: (three, please!)

  • Follow the paragraph structure below.
  • Always begin by exploring and analysing the extract, then zoom out to: the rest of the novella/play; relevant wider social and historical contextual details; writer’s intentions; and themes/ideas.

e.g. Starting with the extract, write about how Dickens presents childhood.

Explain what Dickens shows us about childhood.

In the extract, Dickens presents childhood as…; however, in the rest of the novella, childhood is presented as….


Throughout the novel, childhood is presented as…

In the extract Dickens presents childhood as a ‘lonely’ and painful period of Scrooge’s life; however, in other parts of the novella, childhood is presented as a merry and joyful time, despite the many hardships of lower class Victorian society.
Provide some evidence in the form of a quotation.

Make sure you embed the evidence, avoid using phrases like ‘a quote to show this is…’

In the vision of his childhood, Scrooge is presented as a ‘lonely boy by a feeble fire’.
Zoom into a quotation from the extract.

You must pick a quote that has something worth zooming into. Explain why the word or technique was used by exploring connotations or examining what effect the technique has.

The adjective ‘lonely’ reveals how isolated Scrooge is, and it is also mentioned that he has been ‘neglected by his friends’. The use of emotive language in ‘lonely’ and ‘neglected’ makes the reader feel highly sympathetic towards Scrooge, and we begin to understand why he is such a ‘hard and sharp’ character, as he had so little love and affection in his childhood, which seems to have permanently damaged him. Furthermore, the description of the ‘feeble fire’ could be a symbol of Scrooge because, like the fire, Scrooge was weak and lacklustre because he didn’t have the love of a family.
Zoom out to one or more of the following (as appropriate)

The rest of the novella

A key theme from within the novella

Social and historical contextual factors

Dickens’ message

Dickens could be showing his reader that a childhood can be full of difficulty, like Tiny Tim’s, with his disabilities, yet it is still more bearable than a childhood without love. Dickens may be suggesting that children do not need luxury, they only need parents who care for them, in order for them to have happy childhoods. However, the ghost of Christmas present does comment to Scrooge that Tiny Tim will die if his father cannot afford to support him, showing that basic human needs still need to be met, which shows how harsh Scrooge and Victorian society were towards children.

Link back to your opening point and reiterate why you agree or disagree, based on what you have just explored.

Overall, childhood is presented as a solemn time without a supportive family, and also a very difficult time in an uncaring society like Victorian London. Dickens shows how children suffer the most in society.

A Conclusion

  • Remember the questions/ideas worth exploring that you posed in your introduction? Try to answer them here, drawing upon the evidence explored in the essay.
  • Your conclusion is similar to an introduction; it must be brief. However, a conclusion requires a summary of the deeper messages brought up by the question, rather than a more surface level exploration of the character/theme/setting named in the question.
  • State your personal position in relation to the issues that you have explored.
  • Begin with ‘ultimately’, ‘overall’ or ‘in conclusion’.

e.g. Starting with the extract, explain how far you think Shakespeare presents Macbeth as being in control.

Overall, Shakespeare continually shows us that ‘fate’ is out of our hands. The tragedy of Macbeth displays the paradoxical idea that the more you try to gain control, the more of it you will lose. Whether it is divine or supernatural forces that ultimately take Macbeth’s control continues to be a subject for debate. Either way, Shakespeare shows that attempts to control our own fates are futile, and that we are inevitably being led down a path that we cannot change. 

Teaching Question 3 (Paper 1, AQA GCSE English Language)

“How the story is told is as important as the events that are being told.”

What students need to identify when exploring how texts are structured for effect: (these are some of the main structural features, there are more!)

  1. Openings and closings (why have openings/closings been crafted in a particular way?)
  2. Structural focus & shifts (what images are we being directed to focus on? How do these change/develop?)
  3. Recurring features (are there any examples of recurrent language, images or ideas?)
  4. How time is used (e.g. chronology, tense shifts, starting at the end)
  5. Narrative perspective (how are the events depicted altered by who is telling the story? E.g a student and a teacher recounting the same events would be portrayed very differently.)

When students approach the text with structural focus in mind, they need to think like a camera. This means they need to really focus on the images that are being presented to them and consider why they are being presented with such images. What do they prompt us to imagine? Do they change how we feel about the narrator/settings/characters? An example of  how to practice this is the use of story boarding.

An example:

A student created this frame when exploring the opening of ‘The Girl on the Train’. By thinking like a camera, the students were able to ascertain which images the writer really wanted the reader to focus upon.

In terms of creating paragraphs in responses, we rely on the what-how-why structure. I find this far more useful than PEE, as the ‘explain’ part of PEE can be quite vague. By answering the focused question ‘why has this structural technique been used?’ students naturally engage in analysis of writer’s choices.

Here is an example paragraph from our work on ‘Girl on the Train’, using the what-how-why structure.

What structural technique is used?

How is it used? (Evidence in the form of a quote or reference to the text)

Why has this structural technique been used? (Because of its effect – explain the effect)

Subject terminology is underlined and in bold.

The writer uses a narrow structural focus at the beginning and end of the text. In the opening, the focus is on a ‘pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks’ and in the closing, the narrator sees that ‘little pile of clothes… abandoned’ in her mind. The recurrent focus on the image of the ‘pile of clothes’ is quite evocative because it raises many questions in the reader’s mind. The reader will wonder how a pile of clothing came to be ‘abandoned’ on the train track, as the more you consider the image, the stranger and more ominous it seems. There is no immediate explanation for such items being by the side of a train track, suggesting that something abnormal has happened. By repeating the image, the writer could be foreshadowing something that is going to happen later in the text, as the questions raised by the clothes will surely be answered later in the novel.

The narrator speaks in the present tense, so the reader experiences all of the events in the narrative at the same time as the narrator. The use of the present tense is effective because the narrator is not positioned in the future, meaning that we do not know how the narrative will turn out. This could increase tension, as the reader knows how little control the narrator has over the events.

At certain points, the narrator reflects on the past and reverts to speaking in the past tense, for example ‘My mother used to tell me’. This adds a slightly ambiguous layer of meaning to the text because the use of past tense could suggest that narrator no longer speaks to her mother or that her mother is not in her life anymore for some reason.

As you can see, the ‘why’ sections are significantly more developed, considering a multitude of effects and thus reasons ‘why’ the writer chose to use the technique.

Teaching Question 4 (Paper 1, AQA GCSE English Language)

Having read a number of extremely useful blogs on this topic, I’ve decided to put forward my own method for teaching students how to answer the ‘evaluation’ question. The simple answer: turn the process into a debate. 

All students need to be well versed in formal debating. It will be much easier to evaluate the points in the argument if your planning is set up in the style of a debate. The first thing to do is to turn the question into a debate motion which makes sense.

An example question, drawing upon the opening of Hard Times, is:

‘After reading this text, a student said that the character of Mr Gradgrind seems more comic than cruel’. 

Students need to know to turn this into a motion, making it:

THBT Mr Gradgrind seems more comic than cruel.

Students will then proceed to draw up a table of ‘affirmative’ and ‘negative’ arguments, where they cite textual evidence as either being in favour of, or against, the motion.

This forces the students to engage in the process of evaluating as they subconsciously begin to assess the validity of certain strands of evidence, as they place them next to each other in the planning stage.

As an introduction, the students are required not to draw on specific strands of the argument, but to broadly acknowledge their point of view, beginning with the word ‘arguably’ and drawing in ‘however’, if there is an alternative side to argue. (AQA have stated that it is fine to simply agree with the statement.)

Each affirmative/negative point forms the basis for a paragraph. Students explain their point in full, referring to textual evidence and unpicking the artistic choices used by the writer. The key question is: how do the artistic choices support this point of your argument? I probably say this about twenty times in the lesson! Students are also well versed in the what-how-why process of explanation and analysis, so can guide themselves through the technical analysis aspect (zooming into individual words, zooming out to wider meanings.) The analysis of artistic choices is crucial in evidencing student’s points in relation to the debate.

A key skill which students need to assimilate is the use of hesitancy and ability to express the level of their conviction in their phrasing. Students need to be clear about how to assess the credibility of each point and make a comment about how far their point/evidence supports the statement in the question. Using the modal verbs ‘could’, ‘may’ and ‘might’ etcetera is useful, and drawing attention to expressing levels of certainty has been helpful in creating evaluative statements. I have been guiding my students into using phrases such as ‘arguably, the most convincing evidence could be…’, ‘it is likely that…’ and ‘the writer may be insinuating that…’ This adds a much needed sense of thoughtfulness and implied consideration to their arguments. Sensitively deployed arguments are, of course, the most convincing! Perfecting the phrases that show evaluative thinking have been the trickiest aspect of this question to hone so far.

Some examples of how to frame evaluative statements:

  • perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence is…
  • a relevant argument in support of the statement is…
  • this point could be said to lack validity because…
  • the idea that …. could negate the idea that…
  • is is debatable as to whether the writer intended…
  • … is in alignment with the idea that…

An example of evaluating the validity of a point is in this snippet from a model essay: (taken from an response to the statement ‘the narrator seems to be suffering emotionally‘, using an extract from The Girl on the Train.) Note that italicized sections are the evaluative elements of the answer.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence that the narrator is ‘suffering emotionally’ lies in her descriptions of everyday objects. The narrator describes a shoe as ‘lonesome’, a pile of clothes as ‘abandoned’ and also uses the adjective ‘discarded’. These diction choices are interesting ways to describe the objects, as it affixes melancholy emotions to inanimate objects, and it is conceivable that she could be using such language as it mirrors her situation and/or state of mind. The narrator’s fixation on the ‘abandonment’ of everyday objects could indicate that she herself has been abandoned and feels lonesome. It is certainly indicative of her distressed state of mind and therefore would support the claim that she is ‘suffering emotionally’.

On the other hand, it is arguable that rather than ‘suffering emotionally’, the narrator is simply a bored and tired commuter. The narrator describes how the words in newspaper ‘blur in front of her eyes’. The verb ‘blur’ could indicate her tiredness, and therefore her lack of ability to focus on the words. However, this point could be said to lack validity due to the fact that her eyes could have been ‘blur[ring]’ with tears, or the notion that she cannot focus on the words because she is so preoccupied with something else. It seems more likely that this inability to focus is symptomatic of emotional distress.

Finally, the conclusion is the only place in which the students are allowed to write in the first person. They summarise their position in relation to the statement, drawing upon the range of evidence explored in their answers.

Thanks for reading!